Utah's baby drop-off law turns 15, along with one of its earliest lives saved.
A message from House Democratic Leader Brian King
Our members made significant gains this year with the issues they presented to the Legislature and to the people of Utah. We had successes in the areas of homelessness, gun research and safety, and government transparency. We’ve moved the dial on issues dealing with wages, paid family leave, and the rights of individuals to make their own healthcare decisions. The legislature faced progressive issues that are seemingly inevitable - things like medicinal marijuana and eliminating the death penalty. Utah is moving forward, and, as Democrats, we are happy to lead the charge.
Here are some hot topics we addressed in the 2016 legislative session:
Since last year’s legislative session, we made direct appeals to our colleagues to be involved in the discussion about how to proceed forward. However, our Republican colleagues shut Democrats out of the process of meaningfully participating in putting together a Medicaid expansion proposal.
During the last two weeks of the session multiple lobbyists asked Democrats if we were going to be voting for HB 437, Representative Jim Dunnigan’s “Medicaid Improvement” bill. There was some suggestion that the Republicans might need Democratic votes to pass that bill. However, before the bill came to the House floor for a vote, we learned that Rep. Dunningan had 39 Republican co-sponsors, one more vote than would be necessary to pass the bill. House Republicans needed to “own” the Medicaid issue according to the Speaker. Democrats were free to vote in a way that allowed us to clearly draw attention to our preferred alternative: full Medicaid expansion as contained in SB 77 sponsored by Senator Davis. As a clearly inadequate substitute for Medicaid expansion, House Republicans do “own” HB 437.
We want to make sure Utahns know the difference between what House Republicans and House Democrats want for our constituents. HB 437 is not Medicaid expansion. Rather, it was a modest extension of our existing Medicaid program that had nothing to do with Medicaid expansion as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act. It did not use any of the funds made available by the ACA. Compared to full Medicaid expansion or even the Governor’s Healthy Utah plan, it was a gross waste of taxpayer dollars and disregard of the needs of the least among us. Will it help the 16,000 people who will gain additional coverage under that bill? Yes. But doing so may actually hurt our ability to expand Medicaid in the future to cover all who currently fall in the gap.
Democrats are at the forefront of clean air, water, and the environmental and economic development issues they present.
The legislature accomplished some good things in this session. Among other things, we increased the statute of limitation for environmental code violations, moved forward with incentivizing the conversion of older vehicles to clean fuel alternatives, acted to phase in ultra-low NOx water heaters, created a Clean Air Fund to which taxpayers can contribute on their tax returns, improved our electric vehicle infrastructure, and acted to help companies in nonattainment areas install the best available air pollution technology. Democrats supported each of these bills.
Having said that, the legislature failed on some important bills. We refused to provide funding for the Clean Air Retrofit, Replacement, and Off-Road Technology (CARROT) fund. We refused to authorize funds to replace the nearly 50% of the air quality monitors that are beyond their useful life. We refused to fund conversion of diesel to clean fuel busses. We refused to increase penalties for environmental crimes that have not changed in 35 years. Democrats supported each of these bills. But despite our best efforts, these bills and budget appropriation priorities failed.
Elections and Voting Rights
For years now, the legislature has made the process of voting more difficult. By making it harder to get issues on the ballot or simply confusing voters with numerous new laws, Utah voters have a hard time feeling like their vote, and their voice, matters.
Democrats have been fighting to make sure elections are fair, transparent, and accessible. The power of being an elected official should not also be the power to manipulate elections. With that in mind, Representative Chavez-Houck argued for an independent redistricting commission to draw legislative lines with balance, not partisanship, in mind. To spark the interest of young Utahns in elections and government and encourage their lifetime participation, Representative Joel Briscoe authored a bill expanding who can participate in primary elections. Representative Patrice Arent knows the qualifications of individual candidates are more important than party labels. That is why she sponsored a bill that would do away with straight ticket voting.
Money in politics is a dirty trend that has only grown since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. In Utah, Democrats do not believe pay-to-play is the way representative government should work. I have continually sponsored a bill on campaign finance reform that would cap the amounts given to any candidate by any individual or organization. Representative Patrice Arent has been working on closing loopholes in our finance laws to ensure that all candidates for office follow the same rules. Government should be focused primarily on serving the interests of regular people of Utah rather than to fill the pockets of shareholders or enhance the bottom lines of corporations.
True economic success only comes when we decide to invest in the most important resource we have - the people of Utah. That’s why Representative Lynn Hemingway sponsored a living wage bill that would allow working Utahns the room to grow in a changing economy. The minimum wage does not reflect the worth of the worker, and Utah needs to show it recognizes that by requiring businesses to pay employees an hourly amount that allows a regular person to live without having to rely on government assistance.
The family friendly state that we live in too often fails to protect employees from disruption in income when they have events that require leave from work for family issues that we all welcome of realize are inevitable. This year, Representative Angela Romero sponsored a bill that would support Paid Family Leave by the state of Utah. This would give Utahns the time to bond with a new family member or grieve for a lost one without fear of losing their job. Representative Mark Wheatley also worked on a bill that would make it illegal for an employer to keep employees from discussing their salary. Piece by piece, Democrats are working their way toward equal opportunity in the workforce.
We can clearly see the difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to public education. We have leaders throughout the state on the Republican side demanding that the U.S. Department of Education be dismantled and that all control go to the individual states. Meanwhile Republicans in state government whittle away at public education funding year by year. And many of our Republican colleagues belittle the education professionals in our schools across the state and second guess decisions about curriculum, teaching methods, and professional development requirements. All the while, our dedicated teachers work long hours doing their best to help prepare our children with the information and skills they need to live productive lives and compete in a global economy.
As House Democrats, we do not accept the fundamental ideological disconnect that we see at the Legislature regarding public education. That is why our caucus members, led by Representative Joel Briscoe on this issue, identified funding alternatives to increase our public education budget. Rep. Briscoe pushed and pulled in budget negotiations, in committees, and on the House floor to increase the amount of money that goes into our schools. Representative Marie Poulson worked to get SAGE scores out of our teacher evaluations, citing that the test often has little to do with how effectively our teachers do their jobs. Democrats continue to support our teachers and schools. Like Malala Yousafzai, we know that “One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”
This brief list of all the work Democrats put forth in the most recent legislative session is only a small glimpse into the efforts your elected officials. We hold only 16% of the legislature, but are able to provide a strong voice for the beliefs and priorities of so many Utahns. I’m very proud of every one of my Democratic colleagues.
Dr. Elizabeth Pollak recorded this video for the Health and Human Services Committee as part of a presentation for the Utah End of Life Options Act HB 264. Dr. Pollak shared her intimate knowledge of terminal illness and her years of expertise with the committee.
Representative Sandra Hollins spoke with us about the importance of Black History Month and passing her bill, HB 338 - Juneteenth Holiday Observance.
"Black history is American History. Black History Month allows us to celebrate and remember the many accomplishments that Blacks who helped to build and shape our Country and State. Celebrating Juneteenth Observance allows people from every culture and background to come together to celebrate the signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which change the course of America.
We all have a story to share. We all celebrate the Pioneer’s contribution to this great State. It is well documented and I celebrate this legacy. Yet, the contributions of many others from different cultures and religions are often loss in this celebration. Blacks have always been involved with this community politically, socially and economically and spiritually.
The history of Blacks in Utah is a small reflection of Blacks in the United States. Blacks became permanent residents when they traveled with the Mormon pioneers to Utah. During this time, Blacks were aware politically of what was happening in the U.S. and longed for their freedom to live their life as without fear of prosecution.
The history of diversity in our state is older than many, and defines the importance of all peoples in shaping this great state. Juneteenth can be a time where we all work together to celebrate freedom for all Americans, to shape our future and recognize our past."
Utahns want comprehensive sex education, but the Utah Legislature won't hear the options. A house committee voted against releasing the bill to the full house, with some members openly refusing to even consider the issue. The bill was killed in House Education Committee last night, by a vote of 11-2 even thought 64% of Utahns support the provisions.
Representative Brian King provided some interesting facts to the committee:
• Chlamydia rates have increased 49.2% from 2004 to 2014.
• Gonorrhea cases increased 398% from 2011 to 2014.
• 15-29 year olds are the age group most afflicted by gonorrhea and chlamydia in Utah
• Comprehensive sex education that includes discussion of abstinence as well as contraception and protection methods, works best in reducing teen pregnancy and STD rates.
Parts of the Bill:
• Medicaid Waiver
o This section grants family planning services to individuals who fall in the current Medicaid coverage gap
♣ These services include screening and testing for breast and cervical cancer, sexual health education, family planning counseling, forms of birth control
• Eliminates criminal provisions that allow for prosecution of individuals who provide contraceptive information to minors
• Defines human sexuality education as age appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive education including instruction on personal hygiene, prevention of disease, boundary setting, development of safe and healthy relationships, and resisting peer pressure
o Age appropriate curriculum will be established by the State Board of Education
♣ Sexuality education may not be taught in kindergarten through grade 3
Representative Brian King has vowed to bring the bill back to the Legislature next year.
Representative Lynn Hemingway discusses two bills: one that would allow disabled veterans free passes to state parks, and a bill that would raise the minimum wage in Utah in this interview on Comcast Newsmakers.Posted by Comcast Utah on Tuesday, February 9, 2016
End the Stalling and Pass Healthy Utah so that More Utahns Can Live
Jul 12, 2015
Today, House Democratic Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck published an Op-Ed in the Salt Lake Tribune calling on local and federal elected officials in Utah to stop wasting time and save Utahns lives today. As the notorious “gang of six” renegotiate the already heavily negotiated Healthy Utah plan, Representative Chavez-Houck asks the question “If a fiscally conservative legislature knows this is the most fiscally sound plan, why do they continue to throw up roadblocks?” She also questions the basis that led to other unwise decisions during the ACA debate, including why Utah did not expand the already existing state run Avenue H program to individuals searching for health insurance. You can read her opinion on these issues here, or download the pdf below.
Last March, 55% of Utahns said they favored Healthy Utah over what the House proposed, and that number has only grown. With so much support for this plan to give Utahns affordable healthcare, we have to wonder who these continued tactics help, and who they hurt. Find out more on the benefits and drawbacks of both proposed plans here.
Op-ed: Medicaid, ‘Healthy Utah’ and ‘Frail Utah’
Feb 12, 2015
For those Utahns who pride themselves on living in the “best managed” or “most fiscally responsible” state in the country, think again. Utah is flushing hundreds of millions of tax dollars down the drain by refusing to participate in Medicaid expansion.
Medicaid is a federal/state partnership to help provide medical coverage to people in need. Although it has been around a long time, Medicaid has big gaps in who it covers. The Affordable Care Act fills these gaps through Medicaid expansion.
Each state chooses whether it will expand Medicaid. For the three years beginning in 2014, the federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of expansion. After that, states have to share some of the cost. The percentage of state sharing grows gradually until, in 2021, states have to pay 10 percent and the federal government will pay 90 percent. The feds will continue to pay 90 percent of expansion after 2021 unless Congress changes it. However, regardless of whether Utah expands Medicaid, we’ll still have to pay our share of the federal tax dollars necessary to fund expansion.
The Legislature needs to pass full expansion. More than a year ago, two separate consulting groups told the Legislature that full expansion would cover the most Utahns and bring the greatest amount of money back to Utah. But our Legislature is determined to stand in the way of getting money we’ve already paid to the feds back in our pockets.
Gov. Gary Herbert has proposed a reduced version of expansion called “Healthy Utah.” Alternatively, the Legislature’s health reform task force recommends a far smaller, more scaled back, expansion plan that covers only what it calls the “medically frail.” I call this “Frail Utah.”
Under Healthy Utah, over the first five years of expansion, in exchange for paying $120 million, Utah would get back from the federal government $2.1 billion. That’s a return to Utahns of over $17 for every additional state dollar we would pay. Healthy Utah would also provide over 150,000 Utahns access to health care that they don’t have right now. Not to mention the new jobs $2.1 billion would create over five years.
Even in 2021, when Utah pays 10 percent of expansion and the feds pay 90 percent, the cost to Utah will be $78 million but it will still bring in $648 million from the feds. On the other hand, Frail Utah will cost $40 million and will bring in only about $100 million in federal tax dollars. And Frail Utah will provide access to affordable health care to only about a tenth the Utahns that Healthy Utah will provide.
I can count. And the numbers for Frail Utah don’t add up. Frail Utah takes hundreds of millions of dollars that Utahns have already paid in taxes to the federal government and throws them to the wind.
Of course, comparing dollars and cents is not the best way to evaluate the two plans. The quality of a person’s life, even their ability to continue to live, is what we’re talking about when we discuss access to healthcare. And the lives of Utahns should matter far more to us than money alone.
So why does the Legislature refuse to expand Medicaid? There are a lot of reasons. But a primary one is that many legislators simply have little empathy for those among us in the greatest need. Many believe people without health insurance have only themselves to blame for their circumstances. They believe we should stay our hand, that lack of access to health care is a just punishment for irresponsible behavior. As one legislator said to me, “Brian, if those folks want health insurance, they should go out and get a job.” Apparently he doesn’t know that 56 percent of those who would be covered under Healthy Utah are already working but their employer doesn’t provide health insurance.
We need to ensure all Utahns have access to health care for the treatment of devastating illnesses and injuries. Providing those without insurance health coverage before they need expensive emergency room or intensive care treatment is better for their quality of life and less expensive for the rest of us. Without expansion, those with health insurance will have to continue to pay higher medical bills of our own to cover the costs of uncompensated care in Utah.
Let’s take back the taxes working Utahns have already paid to the federal government. Let’s improve right now the quality of life for those without health insurance. It’s fiscally smart. It’s humane. It’s wise stewardship of our most important state resource: the health of our people. We can’t afford not to expand Medicaid.
Rep. Brian S. King is a Democratic member of the Utah House representing Salt Lake City.